History

Phi Theta Kappa traces its beginnings to a Society that originated with six charter members under the name of Kappa Phi Omicron at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, in 1910. The Society continued to grow and in the spring of 1918 was one of many honorary groups in Missouri. At a meeting of the presidents of the Missouri junior colleges for women in 1918, it was decided to organize a new honorary society, chapters of which would have a common character, stand and similarity of organization. The name Phi Theta Kappa was chosen, and the Society was incorporated in Missouri as a national organization. Founders modeled many aspects of the new Society after the prestigious senior college honorary society, Phi Beta Kappa.

The eight charter colleges of Phi Theta Kappa were Hardin, Stephens, Christian, Lindenwood, Cottey, Howard Payne, William Woods and Central. The Alpha Chapter was established at Hardin College but was later moved to Stephens College when Hardin College became a baccalaureate granting institution. Today, Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, is the only charter college with an active Phi Theta Kappa chapter.

For the first six years, Phi Theta Kappa confined its activity to women's junior colleges, but in 1924 through constitutional amendment, the field of activity was enlarged to cover all junior colleges. In 1926, Phi Theta Kappa expanded beyond the borders of Missouri and into coeducational institutions. The American Association of Junior Colleges (now know as the American Association of Community Colleges or AACC) recognized Phi Theta Kappa as the official honor society for two-year colleges in 1929.

In 1930, Margaret James (Mosal) became the first elected national president of Phi Theta Kappa while attending Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi. She became national secretary in 1935 and moved the records of the organization to her hometown of Canton. Mosal served as Phi Theta Kappa's chief executive for 50 years, retiring as Executive Director in 1985.

In the early years, Phi Theta Kappa membership was conferred to students at time of graduation and few programs and services were offered. The explosive growth of community colleges in the 1960s led Phi Theta Kappa to expand its mission to reflect the nurturing philosophy of the institutions it served. Students were inducted as freshmen and study programs were offered.

Follow Phi Theta Kappa's growth over the years in the timeline highlighting the Society's milestones.

1918

Phi Theta Kappa is founded by presidents of eight Missouri junior colleges for women, who seek to establish an academic honor society with a common purpose and organization. Of the eight original chapters, Epsilon Chapter at Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, remains active today.

1919

The first Phi Theta Kappa Convention is held at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.

1921

The first Phi Theta Kappa pinThe first Phi Theta Kappa membership pin is designed. A replica of the original pin is now presented to International Officers upon completion of their terms in office.

1923

The Phi Theta Kappa song is adopted and remains the official song.

1924

The Phi Theta Kappa Constitution is amended to provide for chartering of chapters at coeducational and all-male schools.
The Phi Theta Kappa seal is adopted.

1926

Kappa Chapter is chartered at St. Joseph Junior College, St. Joseph, Missouri, and is the first chapter at a coeducational school.
Mu Chapter is chartered at Northeast Junior College in Miami, Oklahoma, and is the first chapter located outside the state of Missouri.

1927

A uniform "ritual" for use in inductions is adapted based on examinations of various methods used by chapters.

1928

The Grand Council of Phi Theta Kappa prepares a petition to the American Association of Junior Colleges (now known as the American Association of Community Colleges or AACC), asking to be recognized as the official honor society for junior colleges.

1929

At the annual meeting held November 18-19 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the American Association of Junior Colleges officially recognizes Phi Theta Kappa as the national honor society for junior colleges.  November 19 is now recognized annually as Phi Theta Kappa Founders Day.
Ruth Barnard, Eta Chapter, William Woods College in Missouri, is appointed as the first National President.

1930

Margaret James (Mosal), Upsilon Chapter, Whitworth College, Mississippi, becomes the Society's first elected National President.
The Phi Theta Kappa Golden KeyThe Phi Theta Kappa Golden Key membership pin is adopted and remains in use today.
A membership certificate is approved.
A coat of arms, now known as the crest, is approved.

1931

References to secrecy are removed from the installation and initiation rituals and symbols.

1932

John Hill, Mu Chapter, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami, Oklahoma, is the first male to be elected National President.

1935

Margaret James Mosal, the first elected National President, is elected National Secretary and will lead the Society until her retirement in 1985. She moves the National Office from Missouri to her home in Canton, Mississippi. The Society Headquarters remain in Mississippi today.

1938

Dr. G. F. Windfield, AAJC president in 1929, becomes the first National Honorary Member. Dr. Winfield served as president of Whitworth College when Margaret James (Mosal) attended.

1939

The Golden Key of Phi Theta Kappa becomes the Society's first national publication.

1943 - 1945

No National Conventions are convened for three years due to restrictions placed on travel by the U.S. Office of Defense Transportation during World War II. Instead, the National Officers (then known as the Grand Council) meet to carry out Society business.

1954

Awards are presented to chapters for the first time at the National Convention in Little Rock, Arkansas.

1956

Dr. Margaret Mosal's title is changed to Executive Secretary-Treasurer, which becomes the Society's first full-time staff position.

1960

Phi Theta Kappa hosts the first President's Breakfast at the national meeting of the American Association of Junior Colleges.

1962

The first regional meeting is held in Denver, Colorado, in conjunction with the national meeting of AAJC. Chapters from Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming (the Empire Region) attend.

1964

Phi Theta Kappa establishes first National Office building in Canton, Mississippi.

1967

First Board of Directors is named.
Dr. Mosal's title becomes Executive Director.

1968

To celebrate Phi Theta Kappa's 50th anniversary, the first Honors Institute is held at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts.

1969

The Society establishes Regional organizations and names first Regional Advisors, now known as Regional Coordinators.

1970

The first Distinguished Alumnus Awards are presented to Apollo XIII astronaut Fred Haise and to The Honorable Howard Pollock, Alaska's first United States Congressman.

1974

Rod A. Risley, Mu Omicron Chapter, San Jacinto College in Texas, is elected 1974-1975 National President.

1975

The first transfer scholarship specifically for members is established by Dr. Jack Guistwhite, an administrator at Florida Atlantic University.

1976

The first university-based alumni chapter, Alpha of Texas, is established at the University of Texas.

1977

Former National President Rod A. Risley joins the Phi Theta Kappa Headquarters staff as Director of Alumni Affairs.
The first community-based alumni association, Alpha of Illinois, is chartered at Wilbur Wright Community College in Chicago.

1984

The Support Project for the Restoration of the Statue of Liberty becomes Phi Theta Kappa's first Service Program.
The Mosal Award is established to recognize and encourage scholarship among Phi Theta Kappa advisors. The award is named in honor of longtime Executive Director, Dr. Margaret Mosal.

1985

Rod A. Risley is elected by the Board of Directors as Phi Theta Kappa's second Executive Director.
Dr. Mosal is named Executive Director Emeritus upon her retirement.
Dr. Mosal becomes the first woman to receive the National Leadership Award presented by the American Association of Community Colleges.

1986

Phi Theta Kappa National Headquarters gets its first computers and an expanded staff.
The Five Star Chapter Development Plan is unveiled.

1987

The Phi Theta Kappa bankcard is introduced with the proceeds to fund scholarship programs.
The Orlowski Award for International Officer candidates is established in memory of 1986-87 North Central Vice President Steve Orlowski, Theta Omega Chapter, Wilbur Wright College, Chicago, Illinois.
Alpha Nu Alpha Chapter is chartered at University of Maryland's Mannheim, Germany, campus, becoming the first chapter chartered outside of the U.S.
Dr. Margaret Mosal dies July 14 following a lengthy illness.

1988

Phi Theta Kappa announces plans for a new national headquarters and commissions designs for the facility to be built in Jackson, Mississippi.
Phi Theta Kappa reaches all 50 states with the chartering of Alpha Xi Beta Chapter at Clark County Community College, now known as the College of Southern Nevada.

1989

The Distinguished Student Scholar Program, now known as the All-USA Community College Academic Team, is established.

1990

Phi Theta Kappa launches the Leadership Development Studies Program, supported by a $1.8 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
3.5 PLUS, forerunner to Visionary magazine, is first published.

1991

Alpha Tau Delta, the first international chapter, is chartered at Medicine Hat College in Alberta, Canada.
The Guistwhite Scholarships for completion of baccalaureate studies, named for longtime supporters Dr. and Mrs. Jack Guistwhite, are established.

1992

Executive Director Rod A. Risley addresses the Triennial Convention of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the first community college representative ever invited to speak at this event.
The first Guistwhite Scholars are selected to receive baccalaureate scholarships of $5,000 each.
 

1993

Phi Theta Kappa celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Phi Theta Kappa inducts its 1 millionth member.

1994

The Society publishes the first edition of Nota Bene, the first internationally distributed literary honors anthology of two-year college students.
The first All-State Academic Team recognition programs are established in Mississippi and Missouri.

1995

The National Endowment for the Arts announces a $1.8 million challenge grant to permanently fund the Society's Faculty Scholar Conferences and aid in the construction of Phi Theta Kappa's new headquarters building.

1996

Executive Director Rod A. Risley is named a Distinguished Alumnus by the American Association of Community Colleges.
Groundbreaking ceremonies are held and construction begins for the Center for Excellence, Phi Theta Kappa's new Headquarters.
Phi Theta Kappa establishes a website.

1997

Dedication ceremonies are held for the Center for Excellence, Phi Theta Kappa's International Headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi.

1998

The Golden Key weekly electronic newsletter is launched.

1999

The Alpha Project, Phi Theta Kappa's long-range planning initiative, is introduced at the 1999 International Convention in Anaheim, California.

2000

The Alpha Project Report is presented at the Convention of the Millennium in Orlando, Florida.
The Leaders of Promise Scholarships, Phi Theta Kappa's first scholarships to fund associate degree studies, are established, fulfilling an Alpha Project Goal.
The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and Coca-Cola Refreshments establish Centennial Scholar awards for the top All-USA Community College Academic Team nominees in each state to commemorate the 100th anniversary of community colleges in 2001. The awards are now known as New Century Scholars.

2001

In New York, Executive Director Rod A. Risley presents funds raised for 9/11 relief efforts to Dr. Antonio Perez, President of the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

2003

Mosal Award stipends increase to $5,000.
Columbia University in New York establishes transfer scholarships for members, making it the first Ivy League university to offer a Phi Theta Kappa transfer scholarship.
The numbers and dollar amounts for the Guistwhite Scholarships and the Leaders of Promise Scholarships increase.
Phi Theta Kappa is recognized as the top collegiate contributor to the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life.
Executive Director Rod A. Risley and Board Chairman Dr. Shirley Gordon are the only two-year college representatives invited to participate with national education leaders in discussions based on the 20th anniversary of the landmark report, "A Nation at Risk." Dr. Gordon served on the commission that produced the report.

2005

Board of Directors Chair Dr. Shirley B. Gordon receives the 2005 American Association of Community College's National Leadership Award in Boston, Massachusetts.
Phi Theta Kappa launches "Students Helping Students," an initiative to assist with college tuition for community college students affected by Hurricane Katrina.  More than $30,000 was raised and distributed to students in Mississippi and Louisiana to assist in completing associate degrees.

2006

Phi Theta Kappa inducts its 2 millionth member.
Richmond, the American International University in London, establishes transfer scholarships for members, offering the first international transfer scholarships for members.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, citing support by Phi Theta Kappa, increases the number of $30,000 scholarships to highly selective senior colleges to 50; 32 recipients are Phi Theta Kappa members.
Phi Theta Kappa chapters are chartered in three new sovereignties at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College in the British Virgin Islands, at Palau Community College and at the College of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.

2007

CollegeFish.org, a web-based transfer and educational platform produced by Phi Theta Kappa for all community college students, is introduced.
Phi Theta Kappa chapters are chartered at Fujairah College in the United Arab Emirates and at the College of Micronesia in the Pacific.

2008

Phi Theta Kappa holds its 90th Anniversary Annual Convention April 3-5 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania featuring a joint session for the Society and the American Association of Community Colleges.
Executive Director Rod A. Risley receives the 2008 American Association of Community Colleges Leadership Award.
The Hites Family Community College Scholarship Foundation awards Phi Theta Kappa a $1 million challenge grant to establish a scholarship endowment for members transferring to senior institutions for completion of baccalaureate degrees.  
Phi Theta Kappa introduces "Honors in Action," integrating the Society's Hallmarks and major programs into one conceptual framework.
The Phi Theta Kappa Foundation is established, and Dr. Matthew Quinn, President of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, is elected Chair.
Phi Theta Kappa Headquarters establishes a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation establishes the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team program, which now provides some $300,000 in stipends.

2009

Phi Theta Kappa meets the first Hites Scholarship Challenge, to raise $350,000 for an almost 3-1 match to establish a $1 million scholarship endowment. The Hites Foundation issues a second challenge to create another $1 million scholarship endowment.
Phi Theta Kappa partners with AACC, Medical Education Technologies, Inc. and L-3 Communications to sponsor the Frank Lanza Memorial Scholarships for students enrolled in registered nursing, respiratory care or emergency medical services associate degree programs.In 2012 the amount of each scholarship doubled.

2010

Executive Director Dr. Rod A. Risley and leaders of five other prestigious higher education associations sign "Democracy's Colleges – Call to Action," pledging to support community college credential completion.
Seven Phi Theta Kappa members are chosen to participate in the first-ever White House Community College Summit.
The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation announces they will provide an additional $150,000 to the Leaders of Promise Scholarships, which will allow 180 members to receive the scholarships annually.
The Community College Completion Challenge and the Community College Completion Corps (C4) are created.
CollegeFish.org and C4 are recognized for their roles in student success by the AACC Commission on Academic, Student, and Community Development.
Phi Theta Kappa receives an additional $250,000 from the Hites Foundation.

2011

The first chapter of the International Society of Baccalaureate Scholars (ISBS) is chartered at Broward College in Florida. ISBS, powered by Phi Theta Kappa, was established to recognize the scholarly achievements of pursuing baccalaureate degrees at community colleges.
Follett Higher Education Group partners with Phi Theta Kappa to sponsor the All-USA Community College Academic Team.
Executive Director Dr. Rod A. Risley is appointed to the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges.
The Orlowski Scholarship Fund receives a $50,000 bequest from the late Dr. Mary Anne Player.
The Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion Scholarship Challenge is announced. Benefactors Lou and Rosemary Oberndorf will match funds raised one-to-one up to $125,000 to fund scholarships for members facing unanticipated financial barriers to completion. The challenge is met in 2012.
Phi Theta Kappa charters a chapter at Broward College - Center for American Education in the Republic of Peru.

2012

A grant of $2.9 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to enhance CollegeFish.org, is announced.
Phi Theta Kappa's first chapter in South America is chartered at the Center for American Education, operated by Broward College in Florida at the Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Lima, Peru.
Phi Theta Kappa's Leadership Development Studies Program marks 20th anniversary.
Lou and Rosemary Oberndorf establish a second Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion Scholarship Challenge and announce a separate gift of $25,000 to award 10 Oberndorf Scholarships in 2013.
Longtime advisors Steve Meier and Larry Polk receive first Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Phi Theta Kappa and the American Cancer Society celebrate 10 years in an association that has raised more than $3.3 million to fight cancer.
The Richard L. Resurreccion Public Safety Scholarships for members studying in a public safety program are established by Phi Theta Kappa and the Interantional Public Safety Leadership and Ethics Institute (IPSLEI).
Phi Theta Kappa charters its first exclusively online chapter at Ashford University.
Phi Theta Kappa receives the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Commission for Student Development Award for "Outstanding Use of Technology" for the organization's combined completion initiatives – including CollegeFish.org, C4 and Competitive Edge.